Clayhanger, which Bennett completed in 1910, is the last novel where he managed to investigate with any openness and honesty his complicated relationship to the Five Towns, the relationship from which so much of his artistic energy derived. In some ways it is the closest of them all to being his ‘portrait of an artist’, the tracing of the development of an artistic mind. Significantly, though, Edwin Clayhanger is not an artist, but a printer who has been diverted away from his adolescent aspirations to become an architect by his father’s opposition. In charting the conflict between father and son the familiar drive towards the restoration of harmony emerges. Edwin is unable, like Anna, to resist his father’s dominance over him and we are made aware of the doubts and paralysing introspection which disables him from properly entering into the contest. Like all Bennett’s Five Towns protagonists, Edwin has to struggle not only against pressures exerted against him from outside, but also the psychological effects of being repressed and invalidated as a person. For Edwin, who holds his father in exaggerated awe, his father is ‘Fate’ which there is no point in attempting to resist. But even as he exposes Edwin’s weakness, Bennett makes his ambivalent attitude towards him explicit:
He accepts his destiny of immense disappointment. He shouldered it. You may call him weak or you may call him strong.1
KeywordsMold Amid Metaphor Odour Vigil
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© Linda R. Anderson 1988